WASHINGTON (AP)—Rainbow flags fluttered above the crowds near the White House as tens of thousands of gay rights supporters rallied to demand that President Barack Obama keep his promises to end discrimination against gays and also let them serve openly in the military.
“Hey, Obama, let mama marry mama” some chanted Sunday. Others cried out, “We’re out, we’re proud, we won’t back down.”
Some taking part in the National Equality March woke up energized by Obama’s promise to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. He made that pledge in a speech Saturday night to the Human Rights Campaign, nation’s largest gay rights group.
During a rally at the Capitol, keynote speaker Julian Bond—chairman of the NAACP—linked the gay rights struggle to the Civil Rights movement, saying gays and lesbians should be free from discrimination.
“Black people of all people should not oppose equality, and that is what marriage is all about,” he said. “We have a lot of real and serious problems in this country, and same-sex marriage is not one of them.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that Congress will need to muster the resolve to change the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”—a change that the military may be ready for.
“I think it has to be done in the right way, which is to get a buy-in from the military, which I think is now possible,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Unlike the first march in 1979 and others in 1987, 1993 and 2000 that included many celebrity performances and drew as many as 500,000 people, Sunday’s event was driven by grassroots efforts.
Washington authorities don’t disclose crowd estimates at rallies, though the crowd appeared to number in the tens of thousands, overflowing from the Capitol lawn.
March organizer Cleve Jones, creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and a protege of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, said he had initially discouraged a rally earlier this year. But he and others began to worry Obama was backing away from his campaign promises.
“Since we’ve seen that so many times before, I didn’t want it to happen again,” he said. “We’re not settling. There’s no such thing as a fraction of equality.”